Prepare, engage, and follow-up.
I still remember the first time I asked for a significant donation. I’d been meeting with the donor over the course of several months involving her in our programs and I knew that she wanted to support our work. But when it came time to make the ask, I still nearly choked on the words. I was practically overcome by imposter syndrome. I asked for $150,000 over three years, at the time way more than an individual donor had ever given our small nonprofit. And in the moment following the ask, there was a sense of serene calm as she said she could donate $50,000 this year. I still get a rush of adrenaline when I ask for major gifts, but I don’t deal with imposter syndrome any longer. I recognize that people want to support meaningful work and be given opportunities to make a difference. I’ve also learned a great deal about how to make these conversations easy, productive, and even fun. And that’s what we’re going to focus on now!
Here are some of the most important ways to prepare for our donor meeting:
1) Make sure that everyone is on the same page! Be transparent from the beginning about why you want to meet the person. If you think they’d be interested in sponsoring your work in the long term, make that clear. If you are going to make an ask, make sure it’s not a surprise. One of my mentors always says, ‘make the ask over soup’. I love that saying because it means, acknowledge why you’re having this meeting and don’t spend the whole meal thinking ‘when should I ask?’ and making the donor wonder, ‘when is she going to just ask me?’
2) Know the donor. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Dive deep into understanding where the potential donor is coming from, and their capacity as a donor. Know where and how much the donor has given in the past. Make sure you are aware of the range of programs that they support. Spend time reviewing missions and work of other organization’s your potential donor has given to. Ask yourself where the common links are with your own organization’s work. Know the last time the donor interacted with your org (read a newsletter, attended an event, etc.). Don’t forget to prepare/bring visual materials that align your organization with their giving goals.
3) Make your ask clear. Be prepared to clearly articulate why you need the donors support and what their donation will help make possible at your organization.
4) Be prepared to answer the question ‘what do you need?’ Have a number in mind, be extraordinarily clear on why you are asking for the number, and what it will empower your organization to do.
5) Visualize success. Spend five minutes grounding and visualizing success, feel your own excitement for the work, and imagine the fire you can light with your own belief. To learn more about the power of visualization, check out this blog post.
6) Know what to say if the donor says they need more time. Many donors will not jump to yes immediately. They may say they can’t give at this time, or that they have to talk to a spouse. Ask for clarification. Ask if extending the gift over one to two years would change things, ask what they can support with.
Remember, who you ARE in the meeting is even more important than WHAT you say. Bring your empathy and listening skills to the meeting.
After hours walking through every step of the meeting, don’t forget to be human. In meetings you’ll doubtless learn new things about your donor. Listen to everything that they say. If your head is in the clouds running through your ask, you might miss a crucial moment of connection (again, that’s why it is great to make sure the donor knows they are going to be asked and why it’s powerful to make the ask over soup!). People give because they care about causes, but they also give because they trust the person asking for money, and because they value the personal relation they have with you.
Don’t forget to follow up with a personal touch.
Don’t let all your hard work go to waste! Follow up and re-share the important connections you made during the meeting – remember that this is a relationship, the work doesn’t stop with the ask. If the meeting ended with some ambiguity, tactfully work to clarify it, and set another meeting if necessary.
Your first asks may be challenging and scary. But remember that for donors there is nothing more satisfying than supporting good causes in the world. Ground yourself in your mission, and you’ll soon cultivate your own joy in bringing people into the fold of your work.